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Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Let me ask, if we had a 9/11-type situation and you had Wal-Mart that was closed down, with broken windows, and they have a series of guns in the back, and K-Mart and pawn shops were broken down, does the purpose of this for first responders say they have to leave those guns on the shelves so that looters can arm themselves and terrorize a community? Would that be the result, in your reading of this?

Mr. DURBIN. It is so broad that that is exactly what would happen. All of the commonsense explanations you have heard notwithstanding, that is not what the amendment says.

Mr. KENNEDY. Let me ask further, did not the Senator from Idaho--I know the Senator from New Jersey and myself have indicated that if they wanted to go ahead and have some way that individuals could demonstrate they had a legitimate ownership of that gun, they would be immune from this amendment. That was rejected, as I understand it.

Mr. DURBIN. I say to the Senator that if the Senator from Idaho and the Senator from Louisiana want to put together an amendment that allows me to protect my home, as you have described, with my legally owned firearm, I have no objection to that. There are circumstances here that we could write into it, but as it is written, this prohibits the seizure of a firearm based on the existence of a declaration of a state of emergency. That covers it all. If they are firing on National Guardsmen and they say we are going to have a gun-free area around where the Guardsmen are living, you could not seize the guns. You could not take them away, according to the Vitter amendment.

Earlier versions of the amendment were much more explicit and they went through explanations, and the Senator, because he is on an appropriations bill and has procedural challenges, took out the language that clarifies what he is trying to do, and what he left behind is language that goes too far.

I yield 10 minutes to the Senator from Massachusetts.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I am grateful for the leadership of the Senator from Illinois. That is why the International Brotherhood of Police and the Major Chiefs of Police for the Major Cities strongly oppose this amendment, because it interferes with a police officer's discretion to react as he or she sees fit under extreme emergency circumstances. The International Brotherhood of Police also notes that responsible gun owners who continue to act in accordance with federal, state, and local law are unlikely to have their guns confiscated unless they use or possess the guns in a manner or place that would be prohibited or threatening. That's why they aren't endorsing this amendment.

We are here today talking about the increase in availability and accessibility. Today's USA Today is talking about the extraordinary growth in crime that is taking place in communities across this country. And one of the reasons that the police chiefs give is because of the accessibility and availability of what? Guns.

So the Senator from Louisiana is saying we want to make these guns in crisis situations more accessible, more available, when you have thugs and those who go out and loot the unfortunate. What possible sense does that make? It makes sense from the NRA's point of view, but when you are trying to have a community that is subject to that kind of violence, that makes no sense whatsoever.

Mr. President, we get to the question, well, if people are law-abiding and they own those weapons, guess what? The NRA will not let you list or gather the list for legitimate law-abiding people.

They don't want anybody on the list. They won't let you collect names.

As the Senator from New Jersey has pointed out, at the time of 9/11 when we had all of those terrorists here, you could find out where they spent the night, you could find out what they charged on their credit cards, you could find out what cars they rented or what hotels they stayed in, but you couldn't find out where they bought their guns. Why? Because of the NRA. They said they won't permit anyone to keep records.

This is payoff time, payback time to the National Rifle Association, and it will be payoff time if this goes through.

The next time, the Lord only knows, when we have a natural disaster or terrorist attack, when people are at a height of anxiety and places that have these weapons are deserted--not only handguns, but rifles and sometimes even machine guns--we are going to find that the school is out: First responders, leave them alone. Sure we are having strife and violence in the streets, but the Vitter amendment is going to protect the second amendment and leave that alone.

That is hogwash, Mr. President. That isn't security. This makes a sham of the Homeland Security bill--a sham of it. And that is what this amendment is.

As the Senator from Illinois has pointed out, it is very simple:

None of the funds appropriated by this Act--

That means nothing, no first responders--

shall be used for the seizure of a firearm based on the existence of a declaration or state of emergency.

If there is any harm out there whatsoever, no first responder can see it. If a gun is lying out there and there is a terrorist who wants to grab it and cause mayhem, the Vitter amendment says the first responder cannot seize it. Go ahead, help yourself, help yourself; go on in that shop and take every rifle and piece of ammunition you want. Why? Because we are first responders. And then come on out and cause havoc.

That is what this says, not what some have stated it says. Read the language. The language is clear. That is what it says, and that is why this makes absolutely no sense.

We talk about trying to deal with the problems of violence in our communities. We see the proliferation of violence that is taking place, and we are going to make it easier in times of crisis to go out and get more guns when, on the front page of the newspapers, they say this is a contributor to the growth in violence that is taking place in all of our communities in this country.

If you want to be in the tank for the NRA, be our guest because that is what this is all about.

This amendment makes absolutely no sense in terms of the safety and security of our communities in times of crisis, in times of natural disasters, and in times of potential terrorists in this country. That is the time we need restraint. That is the time we need responsibility. That is the time we ought to follow the first responders who are trained for these kinds of crises, but what we know is those individuals think this amendment makes no sense whatsoever.


Mr. KENNEDY. If a situation arose where a home is abandoned, and there are guns--say there were two guns and ammunition available and first responders came in, the house has been abandoned and looters are out there looking around in different buildings, the way I read this amendment is if the first responders get there first and they see these two rifles or additional handguns, the first responders will be prohibited from removing those weapons, preventing them from the possibility of falling into the hands of the looters; am I correct?

Mr. LAUTENBERG. The Senator is absolutely correct. Imagine this in response to what the Senator is saying: There were felons turned loose on the streets, there were looters occupying homes or anything to get themselves out of the flood or out of the way and steal anything, and here we give them a present. Not only did they find a roof over their head, they found guns.

So someone innocently trying to be of help comes in, such as an ambulance group, a physician, a coastguardsmen--look how gallant the Coast Guard people were--and imagine they try to break their way into a window to rescue someone they know is in there, and some crazy is there with a gun. Everybody knows, despite the fact that the person coming into the house wants to be of help--visualize what is taking place in some of the major cities across our country, where fire trucks responding to a fire are shot at. Here we are going to say: Wait a second, don't take away their guns. Maybe we ought to take away the fire engine, but don't take away their guns.

It is the NRA button. It has been pushed by the organization, and they are saying: Hey, don't let them encroach on our weapon ownership, even if the crisis is one that is going to take lives, as we saw in Katrina. Imagine being in that facility, that hall with all those people who were desperate to find some way out of that mess and someone starts an argument. Pistols, guns around? Outrageous.

What it means is that our law enforcement community will not be able to, even temporarily, hold weapons to protect other victims of the community at large during this crisis. At the next evacuation center, such as the Louisiana Superdome, we should allow people to roam around that facility with guns and assault weapons? What happens if someone wants to steal something they see one of their neighbors has and an argument ensues? The lawfulness is gone. They will be totally out of control giving somebody a gun like that.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write a law that took guns away from domestic abusers of children and spouses. We had a huge fight over it and finally we got it through. It was 1998. Since then, we have had over 100,000 gun permits denied to people who get so enraged that they beat up their kids, their spouse, their wives, their husbands, and the NRA was in there fighting every inch along the way: Oh, no, don't deprive the people of their freedom to beat up their wife, beat up their kids, and maybe if they are drunk enough, they may want to take a couple of shots at members of their household. No, we stopped that.

We plead with the Senator from Louisiana: Don't force us to vote on this amendment. Don't do it. Think about the people in Louisiana and think about what it might have been like in New Orleans at that time, with water running over the rooftops in many cases. Now we are asking for the right to prohibit law enforcement from confiscating guns if they knew where they are? Perhaps one of these people who had a gun, been arrested and convicted for domestic abuse still has the gun--let them sit there with a gun and try to enter into a household that is disturbed? It is not right, not fair.

The Senate is going to tell law enforcement officials who are trying to control these facilities that they are powerless: Keep your hands off those guns, policemen, FBI agents, FEMA people; keep your hands off those guns. Our police and Federal law enforcement officers are the first line of defense in terrorist attacks and natural disasters, and they have to have some degree of discretion.

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers thinks this about the Vitter amendment:

The IBPO stands by our brothers and sisters in law enforcement and disapproves of any legislation that may interfere with a police officer's discretion to react as he or she sees fit under extreme emergency circumstances.

Furthermore, the IBPO believes that responsible gun owners who act in accordance with Federal, State and local law are unlikely to have their guns confiscated unless they use or possess the guns in a manner or place that would be prohibited or threatening.

They are confirming that this is a bad idea.

The Vitter amendment would make it almost impossible for officials to set up safe areas during an emergency. It would turn evacuation centers into the Wild West. Take the guns and set them up in a safe area so they are returned to the owners. However, be careful to make sure that the original owner, the person who turned the gun in, isn't really a felon on the loose.

Police know that large crowds, confined quarters, and limited amounts of food and water will lead to high tempers and leave people on the edge.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I wish the Senator from Louisiana had offered this and just said: That is the way we want it in Louisiana. That would be OK. But why he wants to do this so it will affect my State of Massachusetts or other States is something I find unacceptable.

I quote here from Superintendent Warren Riley. He was the superintendent of police in New Orleans. He said:

Most of the weapons were not taken from the hands of gun owners. Instead, they were seized from empty homes where evacuees left them behind to prevent looters from getting their hands on them.

Well, if we accept the Vitter amendment, they won't have that opportunity to do it again. If that was the purpose, for gun owners to be able to have it, then the Vitter amendment should be redrafted. That isn't what his amendment says. Under the Vitter amendment, the police chief and the police chief in Boston or Springfield or Worcester or New Bedford or Fall River or any one of our communities would not be able to provide protection for the citizens of those communities.


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